From removal of tumors to performing heart bypasses, robots have shown great promise in complex surgeries. Now, scientists at Nashville’s Vanderbilt University have developed a robotic device that penetrates into the brain to remove fatal blood clots.

The safe and minimally-invasive technique uses a big needle that can be easily steered around by a robot to suck blood from within the delicate parts of the brain.

Intracerebral hemorrhaging
Intracerebral hemorrhaging occurs when a vein or artery in the brain bursts resulting in a blood leak which subsequently forms a clot that places pressure on the surrounding brain tissue. Though a rare occurrence, it’s difficult to treat and can cause severe damage and even death in about 40 percent of cases.

Surgery is a risky approach to removing the clots. A hole has to be drilled in the skull to access the clot and unless it is on the periphery of the brain, there is always danger of damaging healthy brain tissue in order to reach it. Given that the harm caused by the surgical process may outweigh the benefits of removing the clot, physicians typically choose to administer anti-inflammatory drugs and adopt a wait-and-see approach.

Working of the Steerable needle
Designed by Professors Robert J. Webster, the new robot, called active cannula, consists of a series of thin, nested tubes. Each tube has a diverse intrinsic curvature that helps an operator navigate a path through the brain by extending, rotating or retracting it.

After using a CT scan as guide to determine the location of the clot, the robot carefully pushes a very thin tube inside the brain which sucks the blood out of the clot like a vacuum cleaner. The lab experiments using the new system indicated that up to 92 percent of the blood clot could be successfully removed.

Webster stated, “I think this can save a lot of lives. There are a tremendous number of intracerebral hemorrhages and the number is certain to increase as the population ages. The trickiest part of the operation comes after you have removed a substantial amount of the clot. External pressure can cause the edges of the clot to partially collapse making it difficult to keep track of the clot’s boundaries,”

The team is now wants to add ultrasound imaging techniques to the robot to increase the safety and efficacy of the system.

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